Fighting graft
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Independent senatorial candidate Gerald Arcega, a.k.a. Sultan Muhammad Issa, is proudly presenting himself to voters as “Senador Bitay,” with his campaign promise of sending corrupt politicians and other government officials to the gallows.

Why execution by public hanging? Because the people must see the wages of corruption, Arcega says, plus a rope is cheaper than the drugs for lethal injection.

The surveys indicate that Arcega, who faced “The Chiefs” this week on Cignal TV’s One News, has a snowball’s chance in hell of entering the Magic 12 this May. But I’ve heard many people expressing hope that death will come soon for crooked politicians and other government officials. It could decimate their ranks, but they are likely to be replaced by their relatives, who are expected to carry on the corruption. So will there be more executions? Can the threat of death deter graft?

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Corruption is so deeply entrenched it now seems impossible to eradicate. So when the government announces that an official is being sacked or suspended over corruption allegations, people don’t bother waiting for the accusation to be established in court. (The judiciary itself, in the first place, has a serious corruption problem.) Instead, people indulge in the national pastime of jumping to conclusions, and believe the worst about the sacked or suspended official.

Naturally, the prejudgment can get confusing when the sacked official is recycled to another post, which was done to Nicanor Faeldon and his men in the Bureau of Customs, among others.

So Samuel Jardin, now serving a 90-day preventive suspension as executive director of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), may yet return to his post, or be recycled.

Of course he can also be sacked for good, which might require indicting him criminally for graft, to bolster the case for his ouster.

Jardin, however, is showing that he isn’t going down without a fight. If he proves his complaint that his suspension has been arbitrary and he is, as he puts it, merely “collateral damage” in a war between two transportation officials, it can reinforce perceptions that the vaunted campaign against corruption is selective and whimsical.

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OK, when were such campaigns not selective in this country? This is one of the reasons for the persistence of corruption at all levels of government.

Surveys rank frontline agencies of the Department of Transportation among the most corrupt. Jardin is accused of directly receiving P100,000 as facilitation fee from a franchise applicant and a supposed fixer in the transport sector. Reinier Yebra, DOTr undersecretary for legal affairs, told The Chiefs they believed there was a prima facie case against Jardin that warranted his preventive suspension.

Yebra said the DOTr had on its own initiated probes against Jardin for other allegations of corruption. An administrative case, Yebra stressed, does not even need a formal complaint.

Jardin told us that the DOTr does not have jurisdiction over a political appointee like him when it comes to conducting an administrative complaint. He said it was the first time that he learned about the previous motu proprio investigations against him by the DOTr.

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The complaint alleges that a certain Michelle Sapangila directly gave P100,000 to Jardin in his LTFRB office on March 27 in exchange for facilitating the issuance of a route measuring capacity, which is a requirement for a transport franchise.

Sapangila, according to the complaint, gave another P4.5 million to a supposed fixer, Madam Lolit, in the restroom in Jardin’s office. They then allegedly gave the money to Jardin, who told The Chiefs his toilet is not big enough to accommodate two persons.

Jardin said the route measuring capacity has been “obsolete” for some time now and the LTFRB does not conduct route surveys. His role in approving certificates of public convenience (CPCs) or franchises was chiefly ministerial, he said, after the LTFRB board members have deliberated on an application.

A DOTr insider told me that the power to approve CPCs indeed lies mainly with the LTFRB chairman, Martin Delgra. Jardin, however, is known to be close to Delgra.

Jardin said he doesn’t know Sapangila or even what her line of business might be, although he had heard of a fixer in the LTFRB called Madam Lolit who is reportedly linked to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Yebra told us they were also still verifying the identity of Madam Lolit.

There are speculations swirling in the LTFRB that the principal target of the probe is Delgra, who is reportedly being eyed by Malacañang to replace DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade.

Yebra declined to give details of the ongoing probe, citing sub judice rules. He also stressed that the DOTr has already launched probes on some 200 employees of the department and its bureaus, and is serious in stamping out corruption.

Jardin, however, indicated distrust in the impartiality of the probe. He obviously feels he must present his case not only to the DOTr probers but also to the public through mass media.

Corruption cases can be brought to public attention when officials are feuding, or when someone is after a position where there is no vacancy. It won’t necessarily mean that the charges are fabricated. In fact some feuds can offer the best chances of uncovering corruption.

The government, however, must make sure that its cases are airtight. If any official manages to prove that the corruption allegations are selective and arbitrary, it can only erode the credibility of the anti-corruption campaign.

When this happens, any crackdown will not be taken seriously. There is no deterrence, and corruption will become even more entrenched.

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